A few years ago, Team Ninja dug deep into the 1980s to resurrect the Ninja Gaiden series of side-scrollers. Revamping the concept for the Xbox, they emerged with something great: 2004's Ninja Gaiden was gorgeous, thrilling, and epic—an action game that boasted vicious battles, finely tuned controls, and an infuriating difficulty level that made me want to beat the shit out of my Xbox with a baseball bat. There are challenging games, and then there are games that are just dickish. Ninja Gaiden was the latter; I loved it... but oh, how I hated it.
Team Ninja's latest Ninja Gaiden game hit last week for the DS, though, and there's no hate here: just love. Pure, sweet, ninja-y love. While Ninja Gaiden was so intent on being hardcore that it forgot to be fun, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword never stops being an engaging, rewarding, and robust action experience.
Compared to its console brethren, Dragon Sword's graphics aren't going to win any awards—but compared to most games on the DS, they're flat-out beautiful, with ninja Ryu Hayabusa running and slicing his way through some skillfully pre-rendered backgrounds. But underneath Team Ninja's gorgeous aesthetics lays a strong action engine that makes it consistently enjoyable to slice and dice through Dragon Sword's endless enemies (demons, dragons, bugs, ghost piranhas, ad infinitum). (While all that ass-kicking's fun, the more open-ended exploration elements of 2004's Ninja Gaiden are missed here—over extended sessions, Dragon Sword begins to feel too much like a slash-a-thon.)
There are a few quibbles: The boss fights are repetitive, there are some unfortunate dealings with some lethal spikes, and, ironically, the difficulty level might be a touch too easy. But overall, the memorable, intense, and fast-paced Dragon Sword has all the best parts of 2004's Ninja Gaiden without any of the worst. There aren't any other action games on the DS that are this good, but there also just aren't that many action games that are this much fun, period. ERIK HENRIKSEN